Earlier this month we met journalist and self-taught gardener, Alice Vincent at her beautiful green-filled home in South London. We found out all about her book 'How to Grow Stuff' and learnt lots about bringing a little green into your home no matter where you live.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your work?
I'm a writer and author who started to teach myself how to garden about five years ago. My day job is a journalist - I write about arts and pop culture for The Telegraph, and every day is different, and usually fast-paced. I began to notice that when I posted about my gardening developments on Instagram, people really liked it. So I started a dedicated plant-based account, called Noughticulture, and a column about beginner urban gardening followed with The Telegraph. Fairly soon after, Ebury got in touch to see if I wanted to write a book, which turned into How to Grow Stuff. The one thing I came up against when I first started was a real lack of approachable, simple gardening advice. Whenever I picked up a gardening book I'd find the first three chapters were about soil or compost or lawns - I didn't have any of that. I had four square metres of concrete in the sky, and not much money to spend. So this was what I tried to offer with the book - a real rookies' guide to inspire confidence and get people growing - and less afraid of gardening.
Where does your passion for horticulture come from and is it something you've always been interested in?
I think it comes from my grandfathers. Both were interested in growing things, and I have such strong childhood memories of their gardens and greenhouses, of eating things they had grown fresh from the soil, of what it felt like to be surrounded by all that busy natural industry. It didn't present itself in me as an interest until my mid-twenties, though. I basically just wanted to start using the balcony space I'd got when I moved into my last flat and rapidly got addicted to learning about, and growing plants. It was quite an unconscious thing but looking back I think I got hooked on the calm it inspired. I find gardening very meditative, it involves a string of tasks that induce a kind of quiet concentration. It allows me to slow down, which I'm usually very bad at, because you can't rush anything.
What inspired your book 'How to Grow Stuff'?
Think I answered this a bit above but my approach has always been unabashedly self-taught. I'm not trained in horticulture, and I don't pretend to be. I talk to people who are, who have more experience than me - that's the other side of my job kicking in as a journalist. So I come to gardening as an enthusiast, an amateur and as someone who is constantly curious to learn more - the latter of which is a trait that fuels most gardeners, I think.
What advice would you give to aspiring 'urban gardeners' on adding some greenery to their inner-city homes?
Don't be scared! There's lots of different ways to do it, but you'll instantly start learning by having a go and throwing yourself in to it. When people always ask me what to grow, I ask them to think about their space - how much light does it get, how much shelter - and whether they want to grow things to look at or to eat. This will help with the basics. Find out where your local nursery or garden centre is and speak to people there - they will suggest all sorts of things you wouldn't have thought of. Finally, make the most of your space by planting up - whether indoor or out, plant stands, wall planters and hanging pots can all make the illusion of green space easier to achieve.
What is your favourite house or balcony plant at the moment and why?
I'd probably pick nasturtiums - they're a flowering edible annual that didn't do much for me this summer, and I almost gave up hope, but they've bounced back with a vengeance and I'm really enjoying their foliage. Fingers crossed we'll have flowers by Halloween - they're delicious in salads!
Can you walk us through a day in your life?
My alarm usually goes off somewhere between 5.30-6, and I'll cycle the 6 miles into work. It's 35 minutes of space and calm that allows me room to breathe before I start the day. I'm at my desk by 7am usually and that's when I crack on with working out what stories to cover and features to write that day. Twice a week I'll do yoga at lunchtime or sometimes have a lunch meeting with a PR; other days I'm out and about doing some filming or interviewing for features. I try to be done by 3pm, when I tend to get on with speaking to people for my gardening column, gardening during the growing season or researching and writing for other projects. I usually socialise during the week, meeting or hosting friends for dinner or drinks. I get to the theatre and see gigs or screenings as part of my job, so I feel like sitting on the sofa is a bit of a rarity! I love to cook something healthy and simple from scratch if I'm at home. If I'm in, I'll try and get an early night around 10 - 10.30.
How do you make your clothes work for you and your busy lifestyle?
Cycling means that I have to carry everything - including shoes - on my back so sometimes it's lovely to take the train just to wear some uncrumpled tailoring! I'm a firm believer in loungewear and always get changed when I get home, it's part of a routine that helps me to switch off, but it also helps keep my daywear looking better for longer. I have a few favourites that I've looked after for years and just know what they work well with, and I've had a few copies made of things that fit me well - a pair of vintage 90s slacks is a case in point; they can be dressed up or down and take the stress out of thinking about getting dressed. I'm fortunate that I don't have to be particularly smart anywhere I go - usually it's just a case of adding lipstick to make me evening-appropriate!
What are your wardrobe staples?
I have a couple of go-to pairs of trousers that work equally well with a tee shirt or something dressier. I love a good white trainer for dressing down vintage dresses and doc marten lace-up shoes do the same job in winter. I find androgynous workwear/denim jackets go over everything.
If I wasn't writing I would be... a beekeeper
Words to live by... most things are worth trying once
My favourite thing about Autumn... that ever-so-slight nip in the air
My guilty pleasure... I bloody love a nap
The best thing about my job... learning new things every single day
My favourite London hangout... the city's too big to stick to just one place, but my girlfriends and I enjoy the vibe at a cocktail bar on the corner of Peckham Rye